Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Albert Hoffman, 1906-2008

He will always be remembered for a certain bicycle ride: Albert Hoffman has died. He was the first chemist to synthesize LSD, in 1938.

MAPS has a tribute page up. Here are his obituaries from the Telegraph and from Gaia Media.


The Hopi Orpheus

Writing my post about the Inquisition and the church at Quarai, I reviewed the history of the Pueblo Revolt, which led me to the work of Ekkehart Malotki, a specialist in Hopi language and oral literature. I ended up reading his Hopi Stories of Witchcraft, Shamanism, and Magic, which are full of shapeshifting, potions, evil sorcerers--all the usual stuff. Malotki collected these stories in the 1980s.

One story, "The Man Who Traveled to Maski, Home of the Dead, to Bring Back His Wife," maps almost perfectly onto the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

I could make several stories out of that coincidence:

1. Aha, it's another example of trade links between Mediterranean world and the American Southwest 2,000 years ago, but the tenured professors won't accept the evidence that is in front of their eyes!

2. Or maybe a century ago some Hopi kid got sent off to boarding school, found solace in a book of Greek myths in the school library, and came back and told the story, giving it a Hopi gloss, and soon it became "traditional."

3. Or maybe going to the Land of the Dead to bring home your dear one is not a good idea and usually ends up tragically, regardless of the culture.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

What Lies Ahead

Here are a couple of links. Meanwhile, expect a series of new book-related posts, now that spring semester is finally coming to a close.

¶ What was it like to live in a Norse longhouse in Vinland or Iceland? Re-enactors have ideas.

¶ At least Pope Benedict understands that religion thrives better without governmental support.


The Inquisition in New Mexico

This ruined church, Nuestra Señora de La Purisima Concepción de Cuarac, stands at the edge of the Southern Plains, southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is one of three large mission churches built in the early 1600s by forced labor from the Indians who lived at the adjacent villages. The interior is about 100 feet long.

It is now part of Salinas Pueblos National Monument.

Constructed by the Franciscan order, it was also the location of the Inquisition in New Mexico, which could bring charges of heresy, witchcraft, etc., against the few thousand Spanish colonists in the province.

The remote Spanish colony of New Mexico suffered from two command structures: one religious and one secular-military, with frequent "turf wars" between them -- all very medieval.

You can imagine the conflicts:

Don Somebody y Somebody de Someplace, encomendero: "I need los indios to to work for me, to herd my livestock and build my new house."

Fray Somebody, Franciscan priest: "Oh, no, señor, they must work building the new rooms on the church. Such labor helps in the conversion of their heathen souls."

(Los indios, in Tiwa: "Do we ever get to hoe our own corn fields?")

Fray Somebody, playing his trump card: "And we have reports that you have permitted los indios to perform their devilish kachina dances. Could it be that you are sliding into heresy? We have prepared these documents for the holy Inquisition. . . ."

Meanwhile, the Apaches and Comanches of the Plains, having mastered the horse-riding lifestyle, started playing the game of "Let's attack the settled agriculturalists, kill them, and take their stuff."

The Spanish were spread too thin to fight them off, and arming the Pueblo Indians went against their plan of keeping the Indians subservient and helpless.

Between raids and drought, things got so bad at the three Salinas pueblos that the Franciscans pulled the plug. In 1677, the priest at the church in the picture, Fray Diego de Parraga, locked the doors and rode off in a cart with all the altar goods and the church bell, accompanied by the remaining residents of the pueblo of Quarai (Cuarac). They went to Isleta, where the people spoke the same language.

And then three years later came a significant event in American Pagan history: the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when all the missionized Indians of New Mexico and northern Arizona revolted simultaneously.

The revolt's cultural effects linger to this day, as David Roberts explains in The Pueblo Revolt : The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Plaques and Gold Medals

Once when he was awarded a gold medal for his poetry, Robert Graves later took it to a jeweler and discovered that it was not gold at all.

He got an essay out of the experience, at least, turning the experience into a metaphor for true poetic gold as opposed to gilded base metal or pinchbeck. Graves had very definite ideas about what constituted "true poetry."

Wednesday I was on the list of honorees for a campus-wide awards luncheon, but as I was coming down with the godawful head cold that led me to cancel my classes for the rest of the week, I skipped it.

I went instead to my office, took care of various matters--at the end of the academic year, we are always hit with requests for recommendation letters for various jobs, internships, and graduate schools--and eventually went home. I did not want to sit sniffling and sneezing at a big table, almost unable to talk.

As I left my office to go home and to bed, I encountered a student who was looking for me. She had brought my plaques--one of them 5x7 inches, the other one 8x10 inches. Each bore a pseudo-metallic plastic face plate with pseudo-gilt highlights bearing such sentiments as "In honor of your retirement." The smaller was for my 15 years of service, apparently. (Technically, I did not retire--I quit.)

So somebody wasted the taxpayers' money down at the trophy shop in the strip mall. Am I supposed to hang them on the wall of my study at home and contemplate them?

By contrast, when we had the departmental joint retirement (that word again) party for two senior colleagues and myself last Saturday night, my colleagues gave me gift cards for Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Bam! No more Amazon.com wish list. Thanks, everyone!

But, geez ... plaques.

So I thought I could pry off the face plates and use them as display bases for some other project.

On closer examination, however, I saw that they were merely made from some kind of pressboard with a plastic wood-grain veneer. So they cannot be sanded or refinished.

Maybe there is a metaphor there too, but I am going to leave it alone for now.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Religion of Beer

As "religion," beer predates Christianity and Islam. And it is back on sale in Iraq.

(In some areas, as I understand, the sellers of alcoholic beverages come from Iraq's dwindling Christian community. I do not know if that is the case here.)

Via Instapundit.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Relief for Tired, Bloggy Eyes

My eyes cringe at Web pages with light-on-dark type. Dark-on-light was good enough for Gutenberg, and it's good enough for me.

Now there is a solution: a Java script in the form of a toolbar bookmark that lets you flip headache-inducing light-on-dark pages to the way that Johannes intended. (Thanks, Kelley.)

For the bookmarklet, just scroll down to the box marked "Update," and drag and drop.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Running on Fumes

In the course of a discussion which begin with the how-to of inserting video clips into blogs, some of my students and I watched the following:

• "Steamboat Willie," the original 1928 Mickey Mouse cartoon, in which Mickey was much more rat-like and nasty than today's dumbed-down, cuter, and neotonous version. Not to mention that the chewing-tobacco part is so un-PC.

• The "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech scene from the 1930s-fascist version of Richard III, the one starring Ian McKellen.

Several of them had already seen it in Professor B.'s Shakespeare class, but they were ready to see it again. As for me, the opening scene of that film -- the teletype machine -- held me spellbound when I first saw it. (But I was thinking, "Run, dog, run!" very soon.)

• Jeff Dunham doing his "Achmed the Dead Terrorist" routine, holding the jihadists at bay with laughter.

I was the only who did not already know about Achmed. What will I do for popular culture when I stop teaching?


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Heart Has Its Reasons--For Wanting a Beer

Stories like this one about a heart transplant may seem like fodder for Fate magazine.

But they do raise interesting questions about the whole body-soul split, which is basic to all those religious traditions that teach we are spirits temporary in bodies--or trapped in bodies, as some would have it.

Was it possible that my new heart had reached me with its own set of tastes and preferences? It was a fascinating idea. During those early days, I had no idea that I would look back on this curious comment as the first of many mysteries after the transplant.

UPDATE: Purely by coincidence (really!) Yvonne Aburrow is thinking about organ donation. Consider the implications.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Warrior

Some of the littlest things are big to Jeff Deck, who is traveling the country in search of mistakes.

May angels bear him up.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

The God with Many Eyes

The new issue of The Entheogen Review carries a piece by David Luke on cross-cultural encounters with a godlike being covered with a multitude of eyes. (Yes, Ezekiel's cherubim are one of the references.)

His article, "Disembodied Eyes Revisited: An Investigation into the Ontology of Entheogenic Entity Encounters," describes such encounters and descriptions from Jewish, Muslim, Tibetan, and non-traditional entheogenic experiences:

Then the multitudinous eyes of the being before me suddenly and quite deliberately blocked my curious consciousness's further explorations by mesmerizing me with its squirming, rhythmic eyeball hypnosis.

In Tibetan tradition, a multi-eyed being called Za functions as a "protector of the law," being a guardian deity on the borders of our world and the Other Side. Luke hints at a connection with Python the guardian of Delphi, mythologically slain by Apollo.

Searching trip reports at Erowid, he finds more similar reports, leading him to wander, "But is there anything that can be found in this wayward meandering through myth and visions that offers a case for the genuine reification of 'the other' encountered in psychedelic spaces on the far side of the psyche?"

Yes, it is the interpretatio graeca, saying that all these experiences are of the same deity / psychic structure / whatever. And why not? In applied polytheism, you start with your own experience.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Ambulance Driver has tagged me in a post about teaching.

I let his request rattle around in my brain during spring break, hoping for inspiration. And by doing so, I violated Rule 1, which is "Don't wait for inspiration. Start writing." (But, Professor, I was on vacation!)

AD writes, "If I had but one message I could pass on to my students and my child, what would it be? What lessons am I most passionate about?"

Here are the full meme directions:

  • Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.
  • Give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt."
  • Link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 (or more) educators.

As I wrote recently, I am leaving the classroom. Passion is at a low ebb right now: I just want to get through the next month.

What keeps me going

What keeps me going is this: More time in the woods. No more saying that I can't go hiking or hunting or fishing because I have papers to grade.

So as a teacher of (among other things) nature-writing, I would like my students to know that at least some of the time you need to be in your "Pleistocene body," walking, moving, looking, listening.

And when you do write--anything--all the clichés are true:

"Once you pass your twentieth birthday, technique counts for more than inspiration." (And if you are in rhetoric class, it counts more before you are 20.)

"Books are our grandparents (thanks to Gary Snyder for that one).

"Writing is thinking."

"Use an action verb."

And my favorite: "The first million words are just for practice."

Now that I have stumbled through that (I suck at profundity), I tag Cat Chapin-Bishop, Gus diZerega, Macha, Anne Hill , and Mary Scriver.